The Problem with Fat-Shaming

It’s hard to be satisfied with one’s body in today’s society. Television, advertisements, social media, and general societal pressure have forced a stigma onto people that there are a limited number of body types and/or looks that are socially acceptable. Additionally, an increasing awareness of America’s obesity epidemic, especially among children, has led to a harsh social backlash against people who are overweight. “Fat-shaming,” a variant of body-shaming that can be generally defined as weight-based discrimination, is on the rise, especially among teenagers and young adults. It is a dangerous trend that can lead to crippling social anxiety, depression, and discouragement among people who are overweight or obese. Not only is fat-shaming ineffective in fighting against obesity at all ages, it promotes the misguided idea that the opinions of others on someone’s body matter more than the opinion of the individual themselves.

An example of the discriminatory nature of fat-shaming can be found in an ad campaign run by Strong4Life. The organization used overweight children to pose in pictures and captioned them with cautionary, and often erroneous, quotes discouraging obesity. An example is a black and white picture of a 10 year old overweight boy with the caption “chubby kids won’t outlive their parents.” Setting aside the fact that there is little statistical evidence to support that claim, singling out overweight children is not an appropriate method for spurring people into action. It also reinforces the idea that fat kids should be made examples of for everyone else – a cautionary “this could be you” message that does more to discourage than to motivate.

There is no such thing as a normal body type. It is hypocritical to believe in the uniqueness and individuality of humans and yet still judge someone based off their weight. Furthermore, someone who has struggled with weight issues their entire life is not going to suddenly jump on a treadmill and become a gym rat when they are singled out for being overweight. If anything, it could exasperate the problem. It takes a lot of time, motivation, and discipline to get into shape that can be affected when someone is berated for their body image, especially if they are already working to change it.

By no means does any of this mean people who are overweight should be satisfied with the way they are simply because they aren’t pressured by others. One of Socrates’s most lasting quotes is related to physical fitness: “…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which his body is capable.” There is no set standard for what being in-shape means, but people should be aware that taking full advantage of their bodies’ capability can lead to self-satisfaction and confidence. When people challenge themselves for their own benefit rather than someone else’s, the most impactful results are achieved.

If those who want to fight against the obesity epidemic want to make a real impact, the message should be a more educational one that highlights the benefits of being in shape and physically fit. It is one thing to encourage people to lose weight because it will benefit their health, but another thing entirely to discourage their relevance in society just because they do not fit a pre-conceived mold. There is far too much discrimination and discouragement in our society today as it is; let’s discourage fat-shaming and start encouraging self-satisfaction.